Saturday, 9 February 2008

DAY 1: Sunday 10th February 2008

When someone’s case is refused, the UK Home Office allows them two weeks notice to leave their accommodation, at which time the financial provision of £37 a week will also be stopped. This is despite often having no means to leave the country either by land, sea or air. Many feel that their good grounds for claiming asylum have been poorly represented or they simply fear returning to their home country & so are forced to begin to live a life of utter destitution.

It is at this stage where government policy on immigration & asylum creates ‘Living Ghosts’. They are essentially airbrushed out of existence as ‘failed’ asylum seekers, but they remain here & this reality goes unnoticed by society at large.

Some receive support of a basic food parcel from destitution projects across the country -these are often facilitated through the goodwill & charity of faith & community groups working together with the British Red Cross.

The Lent Endurance Challenge (details on is to live the life of a refused person seeking asylum for one week, in order to give you but a just small insight of how these people experience poverty in the UK.

First day, found Vivienne, my wife, calculating how much food we are allowed each day:

too much vegetable oil!

½ cup of orange juice

½ cup of milk

3½ squares of chocolate

small handful of peanuts

3½ biscuits

2 teabags (no coffee!)

3 slices of bread

½ piece of fruit

plus whatever you could make out of the remainder

Breakfasts pose a particular challenge!

As I am diabetic, I have chosen to modify the food parcel accordingly – diabetic asylum seekers are allowed to take from the standard food parcel those items they want & in addition they are given £6 cash

In my case I have opted to purchase oats (in lieu of semolina – which I suspect is too processed for my particular dietary needs) so I can have porridge each day for breakfast, granary bread, brown rice & additional fresh fruit – all of which allow me to maintain a Low G I diet for my diabetic control

I was diagnosed with diabetic symptoms just over a year ago & it is controlled by exercise, diet & tablets - so a week with a food parcel will be an interesting experiment! (I will also keep up my exercise & tablet regime which includes a number of supplements recommended by my doctor)

As a safety precaution I have decided to regularly test my blood glucose levels to ensure that I am not inflicting any lasting damage on my body

On a practical level - I filled the car with petrol today otherwise would not be able to function also I have decided I will use my car, email & phone for BOAZ work otherwise I will 'fast' from these (& in the case of the email & phone/mobile I'm looking forward to some peace! next week my inbox will be full . . . will be tempted to 'Select All' & 'Delete')

As today was Sunday we went to church & were able to have a sneaky cup of coffee, after the meeting – two asylum seeker friends also came back to lunch & we couldn’t expect them to eat ’food parcel fare’ (well that’s our excuse)

After lunch I met up with the local newspaper for a ‘photo opportunity’ with a family of three generations (daughter, mother & grandmother) who are all taking the Challenge - we exchanged notes & discovered we’re all ‘feeling the cold’ & feeling hungry

Last Friday I spent an hour being interviewed on the local radio, along with two asylum seekers, about asylum & the work of BOAZ - it seems there is a lot of interest in the media at the moment

Breakfast: porridge & 1 slice of dry toast

Lunch: Chicken & couscous and an apple

Dinner: 1 sardine on dry toast plus piece of chocolate (this is another variation apparently as a diabetic I am allowed plain Belgium Chocolate – friends & family note for birthday & Christmas presents)

Bed time: Hungry!

Blood glucose level 6.3 mmol/L* (this is good nhs direct states that normal blood glucose levels are between 4 & 7 mmol/L)

* millimols per litre?

This promises to be a very interesting week

Friday, 8 February 2008

DAY 2: Monday 11th February 2008

Woke early this morning - blood glucose level 6.8 mmol/L - thought about having a cup of tea but . . . remembered I only had two tea bags to last the whole day(if you make two cups in quick succession they are fairly reasonable but if you let the tea bags hang around too long the second cup is really naff! . . . I wonder if I'm a 'tea snob')

A couple of weeks ago I had a conversation with a guy who had lived on the street (actually he preferred to sleep in the Railway Station when he could) he had a small camping stove & would open a can of chicken soup & heat it over the stove - then he can his friends would dip their bread in the can . . . living on the streets with no access to cooking equipment must be really difficult

In my Bible reading today I read of how when Moses was up the mountain the people had made & worshipped a golden calf - he says to God "This is terrible. This people has sinned—it’s an enormous sin! They made gods of gold for themselves.And now, if You will only forgive their sin. …But if not, erase me out of the book You’ve written." (Exodus 32:31-32, The Message)

It's interesting that Moses places his concern for the people before himself - this is the key to any Christian work, particularly working with asylum seekers . . . quite often it's not understood - it's not 'sexy' - but then Jesus did say "I’m telling the solemn truth: Whenever you did one of these things to someone overlooked or ignored, that was Me — you did it to Me."(Matthew 25:40, The Message)

Hectic day at work - in the afternoon gave a presentation on asylum to a group wanting to start a drop-in on the otherside of the City, had a really good time a very responsive group

Living with a 'food parcel' is interesting as Vivienne, my wife, says it has been really well thought out it seems to give you enough to live on & a fairly good balance of protein etc - although if you are diabetic, or have other dietary needs, you do need to vary the contents - lunches are a bit of a problem if like me you take a 'packed lunch'
(the fact that everything is 'value food' is a bit depressing when you see all the cans in the cupboard - wonder if I'm a 'food snob'?)

In the evening we had a Bible Study to which Viv & I take two asylum seekers - we always eat before the study . . .

Actually, as a church
(East Manchester Family Church), we always eat at every opportunity - I wonder sometimes if the church's Mission Statement isn't:

"if there ain't no eating - it ain't no meeting"

But then Jesus seems to eat with a lot of people, He gave us a meal to remember Him & in heaven we will celebrate at the Wedding Supper of the Lamb . . . food is central to the Kingdom of God!

Breakfast: porridge & 1 slice of dry toast

Lunch: tuna sandwich
(made with dry bread!) & fruit

Dinner: chicken korma & no pudding
(this was part of our Bible Study & we ate with our asylum seeker friends)

Bed time: Cold!

Blood glucose level 8.5 mmol/L (not so good - I suspect that this was due to the chicken korma being served with white rice & the curry sauce that was used . . . occasionally a slightly high reading is OK-ish)

Thursday, 7 February 2008

DAY 3: Tuesday 12th February 2008

Woke up early again - blood glucose level 7.4 mmol/L(high but no panic blood glucose is often high early morning, known as the 'dawn effect' - could be the effects of the korma from last night)

Decided to forego the Early Morning Cuppa again . . . it's better to store up your excitement for later in the day

Quiet day - normally we have a 'drop-in' at Harpurhey Community Church but because it's half term the church wasn't running it so I was able to get with a bit of office work

A lot of emails & phone calls to answer today, more-&-more people want to take the Endurance Challenge & I've been answering queries & emailing the Endurance Journal & Shopping List . . . this is really great because it all creates more awareness of the plight of destitute asylum seekers

Had one guy phone this morning, from London. who has been sponsored to live with a food parcel & live in a hostel for a week

With so many people committing to the Challenge this has to be good for awareness even if it is only answering the questions of their friends & work mates

Having discussed the Challenge with some friends I am now considering, after Easter, 'rebranding' the Challenge so that it is not just a Lent event - although Lent's good, it's been a good 'hook' to hang it on & we'll probably do it again next year

Had a visit from an older asylum seekers from Eritrea
(he is also a fellow diabetic), he is quite 'down' at the moment - he has afresh claim & has temporary support while his claim is processed.

He had received a letter saying his application had been turned down & he would have to leave his accommodation - spent quite a time talking & praying with him . . . told him to stay in his accommodation as long as he could & we would do all we could to help him - I really wanted to say we have somewhere for you to live but we haven't: resources are limited & anything could happen before his situation becomes critical

He also wanted to 'cash' some of his food vouchers - this is a problem for those in NASS* accommodation, awaiting their decision, they are given supermarket vouchers to be exchanged for food . . . but they can not draw cash with these vouchers which means they are limited to those items the supermarket stocks & having no available cash they can't pop on a bus etc

Not being able to catch a bus is a real problem when you want to collect your vouchers - bus fares are not paid - & it can mean a long walk to the housing providers office to collect your vouchers

Breakfast: porridge & 1 slice of dry toast

Lunch: tin of vegetable soup, slice of dry bread
& banana

Dinner: baked jacket potato, baked beans, onion & hotdog
followed by a pear(it was really good! we were surprised or maybe we were really hungry . . . but no it was good)

Bed time: blood glucose level 5.8 mmol/L (excellent!)

Click on this link to see an an awesome music video (Mattafix - Living Darfur made on the borders of Chad & Darfur where many of the guys we work with come from - introduction by Desmond Tutu . . .

* NASS = National Asylum Support Service

Wednesday, 6 February 2008

DAY 4: Wednesday 13th February 2008

Early morning blood glucose 6.2 mmol/L (excellent!)

My Bible reading this morning included these words "They came on a man from Cyrene named Simon & made him carry Jesus’ cross" (Matthew 27:32, The Message) - Cyrene was in North Africa (Libya)

The tradition is that Simon was a black man, but there was a large community of Palestinian Jews living in Cyrene at that time (as Acts 2:10 indicates) - but either way what is important is that even at this stage the Gospel story is touching other cultures . . .

Mark in his Gospel narrative tells us "There was a man walking by, coming from work, Simon from Cyrene, the father of Alexander & Rufus. They made him carry Jesus’ cross."
(Mark 15:21, The Message) this suggests that whoever Simon or Alexander & Rufus were they were known to the Church

My thoughts wandered as I read this verse of how even in those early days through this father & his two sons then following Pentecost how the Gospel story had been taken to Africa & then to the world

It has been said that 'God made man in His own image, & man has returned the compliment'

Why do we do that?

Why does each culture 'reinvent' Jesus within their own cultural framework?

Do we find these images of a black Jesus difficult to accept?

He certainly wasn't white!

In reinventing Jesus in our own culture have we some how forgotten to value the alien? "Treat the foreigner the same as a native. Love him like one of your own . . ."
(Leviticus 19:34, The Message)

After all Scripture tells us "This is how much God loved the world: He gave his Son, his one and only Son. And this is why: so that no one need be destroyed; by believing in him, anyone can have a whole and lasting life." (John 3:16, The Message) . . . God LOVES the world - the whole world - not just our particular corner or culture

We need to rediscover this multicultural aspect of Jesus; He came for the nations, His Gospel is for all cultures & He is not comfortable - He challenges us by His presence & message . . . have we made Jesus & His message too safe?

Had to meet up with an asylum friend - a number of issues to discuss including the fact that he is meeting his local MP & was nervous about giving his home address (there have been problems with 'early morning visits' & asylum seekers being taken, without warning, into detention or returned) we discussed away around that issue & he seemed to be much happier & settled (quite often it is enough to be a 'listening ear' for them to know that there is someone else who cares & prays)

Went on to meet with another asylum seeker who has just had a baby she also is in temporary accommodation, awaiting her decision (so unlike a refused asylum seeker who receive nothing she receives supermarket vouchers), unfortunately somebody had stolen her pram (although I think we may have a replacement soon) & she lives some way from the supermarket

So I took her to the doctor to register the baby & then onto the supermarket to do a 'big shop'

Back in the office there were a lot of emails to respond to as more-&-more people wanted to take the Challenge & there was the organising of the 'Endurance food parcels' for those in Manchester who are taking the Challenge

This week has also been the start of our 'Night Shelter Project'
(aimed specifically at refused asylum seekers who find it difficult to access any other accommodation) which we are organising with the local Quakers - the start has been slow but this evening we had our first taker . . . a slow start but maybe that's a good thing allowing everybody to settle in

This evening was our church's mid-week Training Track on Leadership, as Viv & I weren't taking any asylum seekers along, we decided to arrive late go 'go for the meeting & miss the eating'

Breakfast: porridge & 1 slice of dry toast

Lunch: tin of sphagetti, slice of dry bread
& apple

Dinner: 'Vietnamese Fried Rice' made with onion, sweetcorn & hotdog
(this was really good!) followed by another apple

Bed time: blood glucose level 5.7 mmol/L (excellent!)

Tuesday, 5 February 2008

DAY 5: Thursday 14th February 2008

Valentine's Day

Morning blood glucose reading 6.2 mmol/L (OK a good reading)

The Advertiser came out today with the article about the Lent Challenge

Thursday is usually a very busy & long day . . . in the morning we have ESOL classes at Harpurhey & there's usually a lot of coming & going with asylum seekers

Today one guy came in for a long chat about a personal issue & I also arranged for a bus ticket for him to visit his solicitor in London & to visit a cultural meeting to collect evidence for a fresh asylum claim

Quite a few emails to respond to today about the Challenge & had to arrange a couple of food parcels for some Manchester guys taking the Challenge - arranged to meet up with them this afternoon at the Destitution Project so that see what goes on

Had a phone call from Channel M
(Manchester's own TV channel) to arrange filming an interview for broadcasting tomorrow

A couple of the guys came into the office for a lift & in the afternoon I took them down to the Destitution Project at St Brides

Every Thursday afternoon, except Christmas & Easter, you'll find BOAZ at St Brides where we partner with the Red Cross & other agencies - we regularly see 70-80 people
(at one point it reached over a 100!) who collect food parcels, talk to us about accommodation & come to receive other advice

St Brides is not the only Destitution Project in Manchester, there are a number of them across the city, maybe serving 300-400 people every week & we believe this is just the tip of the iceberg of the destitute asylum seeker community

Many of these people have become our friends & it hurts that we cannot always help them to the extent that we would like to

One of the Lent Challengers came to pick up the food parcels for her & her daughter . . . I showed her around & introduced her to a number of asylum seekers - she was visibly moved by their stories

We have found that this is often a turning point with people: meeting asylum seekers & hearing their stories
(from their own lips) - we often take asylum seekers with us on our Roadshows as their stories are so powerful (if you would like BOAZ to give a presentation or Roadshow at your church or group please contact our office

Spent some time this afternoon with a number of guys who have been refused but are still living in their NASS accommodation, one of them had been told to vacate their room by Monday! They might be able to sleep on a friend's floor
(this is not always that easy), or find something else . . . I told them to contact me Monday, if they needed accommodation, & we would 'place them' in the night shelter (we have a waiting list of 190 at the moment for our houses/hosts & Thursday can be a bit tough at times)

Viv was not working today & she had read Khaled Hosseini's 'The Kite Runner' almost in one sitting, she said it was a 'can't put down book' - I don't think I have the time for 'can't put down books' these days!

Breakfast: porridge & 1 slice of dry toast

Lunch: tin of baked beans, slice of dry bread
& orange

Dinner: Candle lit! 'Hash' made with potatoes, onion, chick peas, green pepper & sardines
(we both agreed it was 'interesting' & this was not a recipe we should ever repeat!)

Bed time: blood glucose level 8.4 mmol/L (not good but not that bad, the highish reading probably due to the potato - interestingly earlier in the week I had eaten a jacket potato with no bad results! Lesson eat the skins)

Monday, 4 February 2008

DAY 6: 15th February 2008

An early morning start! Blood glucose level 5.5 mmol/L (last night's reading was obviously a blip)

I awoke really early 5 o'clock thinking about a friend who has returned to Sudan - he had been in the UK for a few years having escaped the Janjaweed but was missing his family

He still had a wife & children in Darfur & was in frequent contact with them - they were safe & told him it was still unsafe for him to return

But he missed them

So he opted to return despite all the risks . . . he fly into Khartoum
(you cannot fly to Darfur) where he was taken off the plane & told he had to report daily to the Khartoum police station

The last contact we had he was living with someone in Khartoum & reporting daily - he has still not been able to see his family again

Prayed for his safety

Met up with Kathie, Maryellen & Susan we had been interviewed by a local newspaper earlier in the week & now Channel M (Manchester's own TV Channel) wanted to do a piece on the Lent Endurance Challenge

For a 90 second slot it took quite a time to film but was edited & broadcast that evening - I think Kathie did really well in communicating the issues

I've never seen the back of my head before
(well you don't do you!) - at least it's not bald

More emails & post to be dealt with when I finally got back to the office - there seems to be a gratifying level of interest stirred by the Challenge

In the afternoon we had a visit from the 'No Nonsense Theatre Company' who ran a workshop with some of our guys on Asylum Seeker Women's Journeys in the afternoon - they really seemed to enjoy themselves: sharing their stories & singing songs from their pasts

The work should eventually form part of a future exhibition

While this was going on I took the opportunity to update & revise some of our literature - we have a number of presentations coming up & we try to ensure we have enough 'up to date' literature for people to take

In the evening my mate from Dukinfield Congregational Church had organised a Men's Curry Night for the local churches in Dukinfield
(this happens every two to three months & is a really good opportunity to get together & talk about what is going on - I have spoken on a number of occasions about the work of BOAZ & there is a real interest in what we are doing)

I took along a couple of asylum seekers as I have done before - they are always warmly welcomed & it does them good to meet & talk with other men (also it's an excuse for me to have a curry)

OK I know I'm the Endurance Challenge this week . . . it's BOAZ related eating & I'm taking a couple of the guys with me - to be honest no week would be a good week for us: Viv & I have the guys back to our house for Sunday Lunch every week & there's at least one evening week when they come for dinner & Bible Study etc (I don't think they'd be thrilled by the news "Hey Guys this week we're eating 'food parcel')

Read over the notes I put together for the Lent Endurance Challenge Devotional Journal - ouch!

Principle 6: God will judge the nation & people who mistreat asylum seekers

The judgement & curse of God is on the nation that withholds justice from asylum seekers

Cursed is the man who withholds justice from the alien, the fatherless or the widow. Then all the people shall say, ‘Amen!’ (Deut 27:19)

Do not deprive the alien or the fatherless of justice, or take the cloak of the widow as a pledge. (Deut 24:17)

They have oppressed the alien and ill-treated the fatherless & the widow. (Ezek 22:7)

So I will come near to you for judgement. I will be quick to testify against sorcerers, adulterers & perjurers, against those who defraud labourers of their wages, who oppress the widows & the fatherless, & deprive aliens of justice, but do not fear me," says the LORD Almighty. (Mal 3:5)

Now this was the sin of your sister Sodom: She & her daughters were arrogant, overfed & unconcerned; they did not help the poor & needy. (Ezek 16:49)

God will not answer their prayers

If a man shuts his ears to the cry of the poor, he too will cry out & not be answered. (Prov 21:13)

They who close their ears to asylum seekers will receive many curses

He who gives to the poor will lack nothing, but he who closes his eyes to them receives many curses. (Prov 28:27)

Those who oppress asylum seekers show contempt towards God

He who oppresses the poor shows contempt for their Maker, but whoever is kin (Prov 14:31)

A nation’s right to their land is predicated upon treating asylum seekers well

If you really change your ways and your actions & deal with each other justly, if you do not oppress the alien, the fatherless or the widow & do not shed innocent blood in this place, & if you do not follow other gods to your own harm, then I will let you live in this place, in the land I gave to your forefathers for ever & ever. (Jer 7:5-7)

Breakfast: porridge & 1 slice of dry toast

Lunch: tin of baked beans, slice of dry bread
& orange

Dinner: Men's Night Curry
(really good!)

Bed time: blood glucose level 9.2 mmol/L (that's the curry effect! the blood test was just two hours* after eating but it was still high)

Tomorrow is our last day will try to draw together some thoughts & conclusions

* <2>

Sunday, 3 February 2008

DAY 7: Saturday 16th February 2008

The last day of the Challenge (for Viv & I at least)

Early morning blood glucose level 7.6 mmol/L
(curry hangover!)

Woke this morning thinking what an awesome God we have - "The great & awesome God, loyal to His covenant & faithful to those who love Him & obey His commands
(Nehemiah 1:5, The Message)

Awesome in the sense of totally awe inspiring . . . overwhelming in His beauty & majesty

It's been an extraordinary week (I wonder because I've been completing this blog each day that I'm more aware than usual what has gone on - perhaps we too easily miss the evidence of God's hand on our lives)

I am amazed that even this week God has taken the Lent Endurance Challenge & used it to raise awareness of the plight of destitute asylum seekers - this is absolutely wonderful as only a couple of months ago this was just an idea in the office & the main vehicle for publicity has been the internet
(very few paper copies) yet have participants right across the country from the South to Scotland & here in Manchester the Challenge has been featured in the newspapers & on the radio & television

God is truly awesome

This Saturday Viv & I were working on the Collection Point for Moneyspinner Credit Union (volunteering for the Credit Union is something we have done since moving to Dukinfield - it allows us to give back to the community we live in & we have also made many friends at the same time)

After lunch . . . shopping! & getting ready for Sunday - this Sunday, at church, I'm performing some 'Gospel Magic' as part of our morning meeting ('Gospel Magic' is really just an entertaining way of telling the Gospel story or teaching Biblical truth - not that preaching isn't entertaining . . . well maybe . . . I find that because it is so visual it goes down particularly well with children & speakers of other languages . . . actually with almost anyone)
Tried to chill out today but had a number of phone calls from asylum seekers who are being made homeless on Monday
(because they are living in NASS accommodation & their asylum applications have been rejected) arranged to meet up with them on Monday & move them into the night shelter

Monday is going to be very very busy!!

Breakfast: porridge & 1 slice of dry toast

Dinner: the last meal of the Challenge - pasta with vegetable sauce
(made with all the 'odd bits' - it was really good!)

Bed time: blood glucose level 6.3 mmol/L
(& I've finished the week's Challenge with an OK blood glucose reading)

DAY 8: Sunday 17th February 2008

Early morning blood glucose 6.3 mmol/L (& I've lost 3 lbs this week!)

Today we eat REAL food!

We have finished our Endurance Challenge Week:

a number od asylum seekers at church
(performed Gospel Magic which always goes well with asylum seekers - I think because it is so visual & accessible)

after church Viv & I had a couple of asylum seekers back for lunch

after lunch helped sort out some issues with doctors & medication

in the evening an asylum seeker slept in our spare room
(he was the only one for the Night Shelter - it seemed easier)

. . . the work of BOAZ continues

What have we learnt?

1. that the Red Cross food parcel is very well thought out - it might, over time, become repetitive but you certainly wouldn't starve

2. Viv & I think the biggest issue for us was the 'lack of freedom' - not being able to eat how & what we wanted to (OK hands up we cheated a bit with Curry Nights . . . but now I will invite more of the guys to these events)

3. we waste a lot! this past week we've been careful with our food, eating half a tin & keeping half a tin, in the fridge, for another day - not that we'd throw food away but we might have bigger portions 'because it's there

4. we think we could live more simply & share more meals

5. we've learnt that God has travelled with us (but then He always does - stupidly we don't always enjoy His company)

6. we've learnt it's not easy living the life of a destitute asylum seeker in Britain - you're away from your home country, separated from those you love, living in an alien country . . . it's too dangerous to return & you have no support to live either. The Red Cross food parcel is great but it doesn't feed the other hunger you feel deep inside


We've enjoyed the week (we really have & we are considering repeating it later in the year without the Curry Nights)

There are many many things that have happened in the week which I felt would be inappropriate to write about in this blog

I've seen God open the doors to the media in extraordinary ways

Neighbours & friends have asked questions & have been shocked by the answers

I've seen news hardened journalists moved to silence by the stories that asylum seekers told them

A repeated question the media has asked has been "Why BOAZ do this work?"

My answer has been:

1. First of all we are Christians & we believe that all people are created in the image of God & therefore desire to be cherished & cared for

2. God has called us to this - this is our vocation (you don't hear that word much these days)

3. We are humans & on the human level alone we care

4. It makes Jesus happy - He said "I’m telling the solemn truth: Whenever you did one of these things to someone overlooked or ignored, that was Me—you did it to Me" (Matthew 25:40, The Message) . . . & that's reason enough

I've not written about our three student placements who've been journeying with us (at times they must have thought 'what have we got ourselves into?) - Amber, Bart & Rod it's been good to have you along for the ride

There have been times I have nearly cried & times I've been overwhelmed by God's Grace

Darfur (where a number of our guys have come from) has been highlighted in the news this week as Steven Speilberg has pulled out of the Beijing Olympic Ceremonies - all this helps raise awareness . . . I wonder if our Government is listening? (there are Darfuris living in Britain for whom to return is death - but they have no support here: no housing, no benefits & no 'Right to Work')

It’s been a GOOD WEEK!

All this week the Director of BOAZ, & my co-worker, Dave Smith has been on holiday - when he asks on Monday "What did you do last week?" I'll tell him "Read the blog Dave!"

We're approaching Easter - I'll finish with one of my favourite songs Michael Card singing "Why?" . . .

. . . check back on - we will be having an occassional blog about the BOAZ work (& it won't be updated daily!)